Vietnam and Korea

Just a quick post to note that I’m alive and well in Korea, after five fascinating days in Saigon. While in Saigon, on my first day, I had the privilege of delivering a seminar on Jewish child-rearing practices to an audience of 120 Vietnamese. They were hungry to learn new ideas — many were taking notes — and I was glad to be able to share the best aspects of my own culture, like Judaism’s emphasis on asking questions and following one’s curiosity. The seminar was held in a beautiful cafe in the Bitexco Tower, Saigon’s tallest building.

Beyond that, I spent a bunch of time with my good friend who showed me all around the city and took me on a Mekong Delta tour as well. Vietnamese food is delicious, and you knew that already, but it’s delicious in ways that surprised me: the fresh herbs and greenery that come with just about every dish, the fish, the curious rice cake concoctions.

Saigon is a city that’s going through rapid changes, growing into a modern city, with bits of Communism still, and bits of third-world chaos, and bits that look as new and organized as the fancier stretches of Seoul. (Korean investment is everywhere.) The people there seem excited by the changes but still uncertain about the future, and it will be interesting to see where Vietnam goes in the next decade. I can’t wait to go back.

Seoul, meanwhile, is my future home, and I’m pretty used to it. My goshitel — a sort of student dorm hotel — is fine, though this is the tiniest room I’ve ever stayed in. Classes are good, the neighborhood by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is more OK than I thought it would be, and I’ve been busy with old friends and new. I have this longstanding fear that when I move to Korea, or when I visit, I’ll spend long stretches of time alone and lonely, staring at the walls, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. And then I get here and discover I don’t have a minute to think. Since I arrived Thursday morning, I’ve taken a placement exam, started classes, spent time with a couple of different friends, gone out to Gimpo for a night and a day, and today went down to the Suwon Folk Village for the first time since 2002, in the company of a Japanese classmate, and then afterward met a bunch more classmates and a couple of their Korean friends for a barbecue dinner. In other words, Seoul life!

There’s much more to say about both Vietnam and my time here in Seoul so far, but I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to say it, so I figured I’d better start now and fill in the details later.